We’ve been reading a lot of Henry David Thoreau in my journalism ethics course and I’m pretty sure he and I share a personality type. The uncompromising insistence on the moral thing to do regardless of whether it is popular, the appeals to conscience, individual freedom, and higher law. Like Thoreau, I suppose, those who break my heart the most are those with good intentions. Those who shrug and say ‘it’s none of my business’, those who look away. Those who distract themselves.
Lately I’ve been bombarded with thoughts of death, not in a suicidal way, but just in a realist way. It’s hard for me to come to terms with reality sometimes. I’ve just been getting thrown off by the notion that one day I will die, and not only that, but before that happens, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to watch all my family members and friends and other loved ones die and deal with the immense grief of that. I literally can’t imagine a life without my parents – they’re the reason I’m here at all (co-reasons, of course, with Someone greater).
And after every one of these suffocating little attacks which Otilia and I talked about is like descending down a black hole, I have to remind myself that death is only the end of our earthly existences. I’m confident that God isn’t out to get anyone. He doesn’t want to trip you up and trick you into hell. So naturally, as my mind meandered down this little afterlife fork, I wondered about the question that has bothered so many Christian apologists throughout the decades (well, one of many): how could we possibly enjoy being in heaven if we knew that the people we loved and lived with on earth ended up in the other place and are enduring spiritual and bodily torment, the result of an existential anxiety that comes from separation from one’s true home?
Several saints have said that we simply won’t care because we’ll be in the presence of God, or any affection we felt for those people will be turned into hatred because they no longer belong to God. An answer like this can easily come off as flippantly un-Christian. What do you mean, we won’t care about the sufferings of other people, especially those we love? What if we prayed and prayed and prayed for these people and it just wasn’t enough? Do we simply shrug and move on?
I can’t pretend to have an answer to this, as I’m no theologian. Right now, it’s inspiring me to pray more for my family and friends, both living and deceased. But I can provide some anecdotal evidence to support the idea that for those in heaven, God is totally enough, so beautiful that you simply can’t look away.
I’ve heard atheists (mostly on my deep dark descents into the gutters of Internet comment boxes) argue that if heaven is real, it’s a pretty silly idea, oppressive to free thought, since who would want to just sit around and look at God for the rest of eternity? What even is eternity (on second thought, let’s not go down that road)?
I can argue that on a much smaller scale, the time I try to spend at adoration each week is a little glimpse of heaven. I walk into my small chapel here on campus around lunch time on a Friday, tired from a long week’s worth of classes, probably running on an amount of sleep that never feels like enough and a few cups of caffeine. I acclimate myself to the near-silence and God’s Presence. During the time I spend there, even if only for ten minutes, it feels as if the rest of the world is going on outside without me. I could be content to share my life with Jesus forever. I always get a little disappointed when the priest comes back at the end of the hour for the benediction, and I end up having to drag myself away. I have to return to the world.
I pray that one day I will not have to leave. That’s what I hope heaven is like. I’m also praying that everyone will be able to experience this for themselves and so God’s joy will spread.
Update: since first writing this post, I’ve not only had to read a chapter in my ethics textbook about death that asserts life is meaningless since we will all cease to exist at some point (it also started off on a rant about how abortion should be approached from a gradualist mindset AKA relativist), but I also discovered that my professor is a communist and activist for the Occupy movement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it was just a little shocking. I’m trying to be more positive about everything in my life, though it’s difficult.